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Tadd Mullinix created his Dabrye alias in the late 90s as a hip-hop alter ego, a sonic wildstyle that weaved together the laid back vibes of midwestern hip-hop and east coast boom bap, the futuristic funk of Ummah-era Jay Dee, and the calculated subtlety of Detroit dance music. Upon discovering local Detroit hip-hop producers Mullinix realized many of the best had a rhythmic sensibility that set them apart from the rest of the country. Detroit wasn't a hotspot on the nationwide rap map yet but it had its own swing, full of subtle differences and embodied by groups like Slum Village. As Dabrye, Mullinix captured some of this sensibility the nuance of metric modulation and paired it with electronic touches and rap swagger across three albums that brought a new set of Detroit aesthetics to the 2000s hip-hop conversation. Early fans of his refined style included the late James J Dilla Yancey and fellow adventurer Prefuse 73 alongside whom Mullinix laid the foundations for a new wave of beat enthusiasts to emerge.
Dabrye debuted in 2001 on Ghostly International with One/Three, the first album in an intended trilogy. Its ten tracks - some written as far back as 1998 - bore no obvious hip-hop tropes. Instead the music was full of nuance, rhythmic subtlety, and ingenious minimalism. The result drew praise from electronic bibles The Wire and XLR8R. A year later Mullinix imparted further instrumental wisdom with the Instrmntl mini-album for the Prefuse 73-operated Eastern Developments label.
Beats were only ever a temporary goal for Dabrye, a way for Mullinix to catch the ears of MCs. One of the first to pay attention was Jay Dee aka J Dilla, who had been introduced to One/Three by local DJ Houseshoes and who sought out a meet with Dabrye in 2002. Sitting in Dillas studio with Young RJ, Dank, and Phat Kat, Mullinix played a selection of beats to the man who had inspired him and watched Dilla enthusiastically settle on what would become Game Over, a 2004 12 single and the first taste of Dabryes second album, Two/Three. Together with Phat Kat, Dilla delivered a one-two lyrical punch on Game Over that no one saw coming. The track was a perfect meld of Mullinixs Detroit beat aesthetic and Dillas unashamed street rapping and it soon became an unofficial Detroit anthem in 2006, shortly after Dillas passing and before the albums release, the audience at Detroits Movement Festival sung Jays lyrics in unison.
Two/Three was the statement Mullinix had been working towards since he first started making beats as Dabrye. The album upped the sonic ante and wore its love of hardcore hip-hop unashamedly with appearances from MF Doom, Beans, and a slew of Detroit artists including Waajeed, Ta-Raach, Finale, and Guilty Simpson. Released in a year of mourning for Detroit fans and upheaval in the hip-hop world, the albums full impact was felt in slow increments over the following years. By the late 00s Dabryes music had become central to the sonic cannon of a new generation of producers, young kids who connected via MySpace and first congregated in small clubs from Los Angeles to Glasgow. As this beat scene grew centering itself on the Low End Theory weekly in L.A. it showed Mullinix the influence of his work and the value of his vision for Dabrye as his own brand of Detroit hip-hop.
In 2018, nearly 20 years after the first Dabrye beats burst out of Mullinixs home computer, Ghostly International is reissuing all three Dabrye albums including the first-ever vinyl pressing of One/Three. Following these reissues will be the third chapter in the Dabrye album trilogy, the long-awaited Three/Three album. Time hasnt dulled Mullinixs sonic throw-ups, if anything the blur between digital and physical, hip-hop and electronic, subtlety and ruggedness that his music always implied is even more relevant today, especially in a world where students of his style are among the biggest names in the game. Like the city it looked to for inspiration, Dabryes sound was built to last.
“I’ve been known to say that I’m not impressed by spectacle”, Mullinix admits. I think that nuance is what really captivates people.